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Enthralled

Enthralled. Captivated. Entranced. Charmed. Fascinated.

The Greek zogreo literally means to be captured alive and carries the same connotation as enthralled. This unique word is only used twice in the New Testament in two very different contexts.

Enthralled
Zogreo first appears in Luke’s gospel account on the shores of Lake Gennesaret. The scene goes something like this:

Two sets of brothers who run in the same tribe have fished all night to no avail. With  sore backs and empty boats, they head back to shore empty-handed. Likely they were joking with one another as they began cleaning and mending their nets. Having been raised by the water’s edge, this crew knew a thing or twenty about fishing. As such, they looked askance at one another when when the itinerant teacher who had been coming around of late and had borrowed their boat as a floating teaching podium of sorts, tried to give them some fishing advice.

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Acting in character, Simon (who would soon become better known as Peter) was the first to chime in. “Thanks for the advice, preacher boy, but we know these waters better than you. We fished all night. However, because you intrigue me and have a commanding presence, I will do as you say.”

Having nearly finished cleaning up, he set his boat back in the water and reluctantly cast his nets back into the water. The only one not shocked by the result was Christ. The nets were so full they were breaking and sinking under the weight of the miraculous catch. Immediately, Simon recognized that this was no mere coincidence, as he saw that strange glimmer in the teacher’s eyes.

With a smile that more nearly resembled a smirk, Christ spoke to the half-awed, half-terrified Simon words that would change the course of his life.

“Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” Luke 5: 10. ESV

Zogreo.  Captured alive, enthralled with the Worthy Master, drawn into His will.

Christ’s mission to capture men alive, to enthrall them with the life and kingdom of God compelled these sea-loving fishing brothers to leave all to enter a bigger story.

Ensnared
Strangely enough, the only other time this strange word is used in the New Testament is in Paul’s second letter to his own disciple Timothy. In this context, Paul shows living souls being enthralled, captured alive by a very different master. Speaking of souls that have been blinded and ensnared, caught-alive, as it were, by the Enemy of God, Paul tells Timothy the following.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them  repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they  may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26. ESV. 

Zogreo. Captured alive, ensnared to do the will of a lesser master, drawn into his will.

The Bible makes it quite clear that every living soul will be captured alive and enthralled by a master. Experience seconds this notion.

The question then becomes, Who or what enthralls me? Who or what has me captured? Is it money? Success? Human approval? Comfort? If it is anything other than the Lord of life, we are caught up in the wrong story under the wrong master.

Enthralled Everyday

As believers, we are those who, like Simon and his fishing cronies, have been caught by the life-giving nets of the Good Master.  As such, we are ultimately no longer ensnared by the Enemy. Our salvation is eternally secure.

However, our experience of that salvation and our involvement in Christ’s epic task of capturing other souls alive depend on a certain daily re-enthrallment of our hearts with Our Christ.

Having lost his ability to ensnare us eternally, the Enemy goes for a consolation prize. He seeks to keep our eyes charmed by comfort and shiny trinkets. He keeps our hands busy at the nets of self. He whispers lies that cause us to linger by our unused boats rather than set them upon the water to cast our nets into the deep in trust of our Master.

May Christ enthrall us anew today. May His gentle but firm invitation recapture us each  morning, “Come, my child, we work to do. There are still others to enthrall!”

 

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A Radical Approach to Racism

image Black Kettle. Red Cloud. Sitting Bull. These Native American tribal leaders have been my company for the past few weeks as I have been reading Dee Brown’s seminal book (no pun intended) Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

While this account is not light reading, it is enlightening. Enlightening not just to the hidden history of the way the West was truly won, but even more so to the insidious nature of racism.

I found myself reading about the gross injustices committed against a multitude of Native American tribes just days after the Philando Castile verdict. Clearly, racism is not a problem of a past century or a premature way of thinking chased away by the advancement of science.

With tears in my eyes and disgust in my heart, I read and reread the story of Black Kettle and his Cheyenne people.

Black Kettle and Lean Bear, another Cheyenne chief, had taken a trip to Washington meet the Great Father of the white man. “President Lincoln gave them medals to wear on their breasts, and Colonel Greenwood presented Black Kettle with a United States flag, a huge garrison flag with white stars for the thirty-four states bigger than glittering stars in the sky on a clear night. Colonel Greenwood had told him that as long as that flag flew above him no soldiers would ever fire upon him. Black Kettle was very proud of his flag and when in permanent camp, always mounted it on a pole above his tepee.”

Many years and honest attempts at keeping shifting and shady peace treaties later, Black Kettle and his diminishing people were camped at Sand Creek, with his tent at the center of the village. “So confident were the Indians of absolute safety, they kept no night watch except of the pony herd which was corralled below the creek. The first warning they had of an attack was about sunrise- the drumming of hooves on the sand flats.”

According to George Bent, a white man who had become an honorary Cheyenne, “From down the creek, a large body of troops was advancing at a rapid trot….men, women and children, rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops…I looked toward the chief’s lodge and saw that Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn. I heard him call to the people not to be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them; then the troops fired from two sides of the camp.”

To spare you the gruesome details, the horrific situation which followed, known as the Sand Creek Massacre, took the lives of 105 Indian women and children and 28 men.

According to Brown, “In a public speech made in Denver not long before this massacre, Colonel Chivington advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, including infants, saying “Nits make lice!”

Racist actions are bred from racist thoughts which begin in our very broken human hearts. As easy as it would be to point fingers and call those people racists, we must take an even more radical approach to dealing with racism.

In the words of Solzhenitsyn, one personally familiar with evil, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Racism is a radical heart issue, one that begins at the root of every human heart. As such, it must be dealt with radically, not only on the surface.

There are two different ways to weed my garden, as my children can tell you. The quick, painless way to weed is to pull the leaves off the intrusive guests that push their way through the gravel outside our garden. With little effort, the garden looks well kept…until the next week.

The second more painful yet more lasting option is to bloody one’s knuckles twisting, pulling and yanking at the deep root systems whose lengths far the exceed the visible problem.

When addressing racism, I must begin in my heart, recognizing that the capacity to judge and mistreat others is indeed my problem. As much as I rightly want to rightly call Colonel Chivington and his miserable remarks evil, the gospel tells me that I must call my own evil what it is before God.

From Racism to Redemption

Racism: a certain road from pride
to genocide.

Potent. Present. Palpable
In every human heart,
Must be suffocated,
Lest it rip lives apart.

Repent. Resist. Run from
This evil in every form,
Lest we be engulfed
In its hatred storm.

Marches. Pamphlets. Protests
Help but cannot cure.
Rooting out racism
Requires more.

Holy. Human. Hope.
He is full of grace of truth.
Jesus, slain on a cross,
Halts a tooth for a tooth.

Redemption: a road from death
to borrowed breath.

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On Being Fed

Having grown up in Catholicism, I have self-consciously walked many an aisle to bed fed a host by a strange hand.

For our First Communion,  all the second graders at St. Rose were dressed to the nines. The girls wore white dresses and flowered veils which I now see as significantly mirroring wedding dresses. If only I had understood that what I was experiencing was intended to be a wedding of sorts, an outward sign meant to express the supposed union of my soul with my eternal husband the Christ.  Instead, I seem to have stood there rather awkwardly in my puffy sleeves.

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Whether I understood it then or not, having been reared in the Catholic School system hard-wired me with a love for and a pull towards the Eucharist.  A Catholic mass is available everyday for those who would desire to take communion daily.

While I do not adhere to transubstantiation (the belief that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ) or many other tenants of the Catholic Church, I am deeply appreciative of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic mass.

From my now-Protestant viewpoint, there are a few things that I can see and appreciate most about the Catholic approach to the Eucharist, at least on a purely physical level.

It is offered daily. It physically requires us to be fed, rather than to be deluded into thinking that we can feed ourselves. As such, it is by nature communal. It cannot be done alone or in isolation. It is to be experienced in the presence of at least one other human being, often many more. There is a time of silent kneeling before and after receiving communion. These kinesthetics forced our bodies into uncomfortable postures of humility, attempting to teach our souls to fall in suit.

I find that the Protestant equivalent to the daily offering of communion may have become the idea of a daily quiet time. While I do earnestly believe that it is our soul’s great delight to find themselves happy in the Lord (a la George Mueller), I think that at times, daily devotional times can often atrophy into an attempt at self-nourishment.

I must feed myself. I must say or pray the right things. I must dig up a rich truth or principle. Seen and pushed through such an ego-centric, self-centric lens, even a daily devotional time can lead us away from the gospel.

Do not hear what I am not saying. I am not saying that I don’t believe in a personal devotional life. I most assuredly do; even further, I have been greatly enriched by it. In fact, it a passion of mine to teach women Bible study training tools so that they might rightly interpret the Word of God in the Spirit.

At the same time,  I have fallen into ditches of self-dependence rather than God-dependence many a morning. Bridging my Catholic roots with my Protestant training, I find myself desiring to approach my daily time with the Lord in much the same manner as when I was trained to humbly approach, open my mouth and be fed in the presence of a family.

When I come to the Word or to prayer each day, I tend to approach both as a chef might approach a kitchen fridge or pantry. Open the door. Poke around to see what is there and what you are working with. Attempt to prepare a meal from said raw materials. Stand back proud of your meal.

However, I am fighting to rather approach God’s Word and my slivers of solitude with my Savior in what I conceive to be a more Catholic approach. I kneel down in need. I ask. I am invited to walk towards the One who has a meal prepared for me. I need only open my mouth. He will feed me Himself with Himself.  He bears the burden, provides the food, nay, is the food. He receives the glory while I receive the nourishment.

 

 

 

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The Lack of a Loom

I am not a sewer, as the poor little stuffed bear whose nose I attempted to fix with a needle can attest.  The first time I heard women talking about “surging” and “notions,” I felt like they were speaking a foreign language. I have tried to change this about myself, occasionally employing the help of talented friends; however, my attempts at operating a sewing machine were both laughable and maddening. While I do not know much in the sewing department, I have found myself acutely aware that we, as a culture, are suffering due to the lack of a loom.

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I am borrowing the image from a poem written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, as quoted in Neil Postman’s book, A Bridge to the Eighteenth Century. 

Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rain from the sky a meteoric shower
of facts… they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
is daily spun; but there exists no loom
to weave it into fabric.

We humans need an overarching narrative to give life meaning and purpose, to make sense of the scattered events and emotions that constantly bombard us. We need a loom, a place in which all the threads of human experience can be fit and woven together to create a beautiful tapestry. We need some way to integrate the dark threads of sickness, disappointment, pain and death with the bright threads of birth, laughter, friendship, and joy.

Without a loom, without what is called a meta-narrative, we end up with disconnected piles of threads and yarn and fabric. Sure, we can organize them into neat piles, putting sweet silky feelings and experiences in one pile, grouping commonplace day-to-day experiences and emotions in another and gathering the itchy, scratchy strands of suffering into a discard pile. But, living without a loom leaves us with lives and hearts and societies that are divided and compartmentalized at best, and schizophrenic and purposeless at worst.

Neil Postman, a contemporary prophet-of-sorts, describes the modern American conundrum as follows.

“When a people do not have a satisfactory narrative to generate a sense of purpose and continuity, a kind of psychic disorientation takes hold, followed by a frantic search for something to believe in, or, probably worse, a resigned conclusion that there is nothing to find.”

The end of the twentieth century was characterized by a deep questioning of all traditional narratives. According to Postman, these narratives are “the stories that are sufficiently profound and complex to offer explanations of the origins and future of a people; stories that construct ideals, prescribe rules of conduct,specify authority, and in doing all this, provide a sense of continuity and purpose.”

All those years of deconstruction have left us a society without a loom. We have more threads, more information, more communication, more technology than any other age. Yet, we have no way to order, organize, judge or understand these ubiquitous threads. And so they pile up, clogging our lives, leaving us walking around in mountains of experiences, wondering what the purpose of life truly is and wondering where we fit into the bigger picture, if, indeed, that bigger picture even exists.

Gospel literally means good news. And if ever society needed good news, it is now.

The good news we have to offer our confused culture is that there is, indeed, a loom, a framework, an overarching story that makes sense of the threads, both dark and light of human existence. We have a lasting loom, and we must learn to boldly and graciously offer the Christian worldview to a loom-less society.

When suffering rears its ugly head in our lives or the lives our loved ones,  Christians can offer much more than a sappy Hallmark card offering condolences and happy thoughts. Christians can say with full conviction that the world is not how God intended it be, that things are indeed broken. Christians can offer an answer as to why and how things went wrong, an answer that does not point fingers at establishments or classes or races but rather starts in the heart of every human.  Christians can offer a suffering Savior, the only One of His kind in all religions and world views, who took great pains upon Himself to fix the mess that we made.  Christians can offer a grounded hope that one day, the brokenness will be fixed, that things will be made right once more based on Christ’s promise that He will come again to make all things new.

For far too long, we have offered the world morality and rules and legalism or watered-down self-help theology that cannot stand under the heavy threads of human suffering.  But the world is suffering for lack of a loom, and the Bible contains such a loom.

Oh, may we graciously offer the world the loom upon which the Great Artist is weaving the beautiful story of redemption.

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Jarred by Jude

Jude, a tiny novella of a New Testament book, is bookended by beauty.  The short but urgent letter opens and closes with prayers and phrases with which one would gladly decorate one’s home.

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you. Jude 1-2.

Now to him who is able to  keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 24-25. 

However, the remainder of this letter is jarring.

Jude himself, who was likely a cousin of James, the brother of Christ who was the head of the early Church in Jerusalem, admitted to the urgency of his letter to those with whom he shared a common faith.

Beloved,…I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend to the faith that was once delivered to the saints. Jude 3.

The Greek word anagke, translated above as necessary, literally describes an uplifted arm poised to meet a pressing need. It is a strong Greek word connoting someone being under compulsion or under constraint.

False teachers, who had crept in unawares and were claiming to be followers of Christ, were threatening the gospel yet again. They were making light that which is by nature heavy, the glory of God (the Hebrew word for glory literally means weight). They were emptying the gospel and eager for their own gain, though not obviously, or they would have been rejected outright.

In his short letter, Jude uses nearly every well-known Jewish incident of heavy  judgement on those who go against Yahweh and His ways to jar the Church into sobriety at what was happening insidiously in the Church.

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The rebellious angels who refused to accept their privileged place as servants of God. Korah and his discontented pack who were power hungry and discontent with their privileged place as priests (see Numbers 16). Cain, Balaam, Sodom and Gomorrah. Once could not gather a more weighty line-up of punishments for pride and a refusal to acknowledge and bow before the ordinances of God.

Jude is trying to draw a distinct parallel between the ancient examples and the present false teachers. When the gospel is at stake and the souls of the Church are in danger of being dragged or slowly charmed into heresy, it seems that lovers of God are unafraid to pull up the stops.

After such a litany of divine judgement, Jude returns to his gentle yet firm tone to the early Church.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire. Jude 1:20-23. 

He was convinced of better things concerning them. He bids them to remain in the truths of the gospel that had been declared by the Apostles. He encourages them to have their hearts convinced of and compelled by the love of Christ. He longs to see them contend for the gospel.

The stakes were high. The dangers were real. The coming Judgement was looming. Yet, Jude reminded the Church that the God who had called them would keep them. He  concludes his jarring letter with a jettisoned confidence that God was indeed able, powerful and competent to preserve them in the gospels, to keep them in the love of Christ.

In a culture where false teachers are insidiously preaching a prosperity gospel or antinomianism and cheap grace, may we find solace in the short letter of Jude which points us to the One who is able to keep us from stumbling.

 

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Stilling Stormy Souls

At times my soul gently sits like Lake Placid; at other times, it is more easily stirred and stormy than a wave pool at a water park.  Thankfully, over the years, the Lord has taught me how to approach an agitated soul with His hushing presence and promises.

Last week, my soul was trusting and tranquil, not easily swayed by circumstances or frazzled by fearful thoughts. This week, however, my soul has been roiling and rolling, easily moved from the peace that Christ purchased at so great a price. Our souls are fickle, but His Words are unfailing.

Supposedly the Sea of Gennesaret was also easily changed and transformed. Sitting at 600 feet below sea level and in the valley of surrounding mountains, the sea would easily transform from still pool into fierce squall when funnels of mountain air would travel through thin mountain gorges. Such was the sudden scene change in Mark 4 when an exhausted,  work-wearied Jesus fell into a sound  sleep in the hull of a hard ship.

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Apparently, Christ fell asleep on calm seas but awoke to a fierce enough squall to scare the daylights out of experienced sailors. Being rudely awakened by his fearful friends accusations, Christ spoke calmly yet authoritatively to the winds and waves.

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm (Mark 4: 38-39).

While part of me envies the disciples the physical presence of the living Christ, I am beginning to recognize that we have one better in the in-dwelling Spirit.   When my soul is suddenly agitated, I need only address His Spirit within me. Thankfully, the Lord saw fit to leave multiple models in the Psalms, particularly Psalm 42 and Psalm 62. David, who experienced his own fair share of storms within and without, teaches us how to address a stormy soul with the hushing promises of God.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken….For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my  fortress; I shall not be shaken (Psalm 62:1-2 & 5-6).

In the introductory verses, David is speaking of his soul. Only a handful of verses later, David says nearly the exact same thing, only this time, he is speaking to his soul.

The Hebrew word for wait transliterated dumiyyah means silence and repose, a quiet waiting. In one moment, David has a stilled soul; yet only moments later, he is seeking yet again to still it. I am glad to know that I am not the only one with strange weather patterns in my heart.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts before him; God is a refuge for us (Psalm 62: 8).

The Hebrew word for trust transliterated batach literally means to fall on your face before, to lie prostrate, to put one’s confidence in completely and utterly. One of the ways to express deep trust in the Lord is to lay stormy souls out before Him completely and entirely. We are invited, with David and Hannah (see 1 Samuel 1:15) to pour out our inner man, the good, the bad and the ugly, into the safe hands of our peaceful Savior.

The Hebrew word shaphak translated pour carries a range of meaning from gushing to dumping to pouring to shedding. I love the variety of options here. The mode matters not, the act of trusting by entrusting the contents of our hearts to God is what matters. Sometimes my trust in the Lord looks like a gentle stream of ordered, peaceful sharing; other times it looks like a huge, messy heart dump. Either way, I am transformed by the act of giving to the Lord what is gushing within me, be it gratitude or grumbling, faith or fear.

Sometimes the hush and the stillness is nearly instantaneous. Other times, the being-made-peaceful process is more arduous and gradual. Either way, the same Savior hushes my stormy soul with His presence and peace.

What a mighty God we serve: one who is all-powerful, all-loving and entirely just (see Psalm 62:11-12). Peace comes from His unchanging character, not our climate-changing souls or circumstances.

 

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Lending to the Lord

It is a strange concept to imagine a millionaire borrowing a small purse of money from an average customer or the owner of a car dealership borrowing a car from a friend. Yet, in the gospel accounts we see three times when the Lord had needs and asks to borrow from the creatures of His own making.

While I  often just skip over these small moments in the Scriptures, recently they have struck me as simultaneously beautiful and convicting.

Both Matthew and Mark record the same instance in which Christ tells the disciples to borrow a room in which to celebrate the Passover (Matthew 26: 17-19 and Mark 14: 12-16).  Though each words his account slightly differently, both versions carry the same authoritative tone: “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with  my disciples” and “The Teacher says, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my  disciples?”

The third instance, where Jesus sends the disciples to grab a colt for the Triumphal Entry has been running through my heart and mind this week.

Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.”
Mark 11: 3.   

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The Lord has need of it. The Greek word chreia, translated here as need, literally means necessity or business. In essence, the disciples walked up to the man who had his colt tied up and said, “The Lord has some business to do with this donkey.”

We don’t know if the Lord had made some prior arrangements or if this was the first the man had heard of the Lord’s authoritative request. Either way, we know his response. He untied, or as the Greek word luo can be translated, loosened or released his colt to the Lord’s disposal.

Now, I don’t have a colt, and I don’t plan to have a colt. I did want chickens for a while, but my wise husband gently reminded me that I struggle to keep our children and dog alive. But I do have other would-be colts.

I have a husband who is the greatest gift besides Jesus I have ever received. We have three precious growing children whom we steward and under-shepherd, but who ultimately belong to the Lord, the Master, the kurios. I have time, gifts and talents and small semblances of control over my health and my schedule.

I tend to think of all these as mine. While in some ways, I do have responsibilities over them, I wrestle to remember that all of them, no matter how dear and precious they are to me, are ultimately His.

Perhaps because I have been doing some serious continuing mom-education in reading many books on healthily-releasing teenagers, or perhaps because we have been in a very sweet and prosperous season, I find my heart and hands struggling to loosen my grip.

It has helped me to imagine myself standing there, with whatever it is my heart is struggling to release fully to the Lord tied to a post. If the Lord were to send a messenger from me with the accompanying phrase, “The Lord has need of it,” how would I respond?

My husband’s health? My children’s development or future plans? My own health? Our home? My desire to write and teach God’s Word?

The One who has given all these things into our stewardship still has full ownership rights over all of them. And we are twice His: once by creation and again by redemption.

Oh, how I long to respond as the aforementioned men responded: Absolutely. It’s all yours. 

If the Lord has business to do with the things or people I most prize and have most invested in, they are His.

He need only say the word. He requires no explanation. He need not offer us enticements, as He has proven Himself to be the agape authority through His life, death and resurrection.

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Surviving Prosperity

While it is easy to recognize the test of adversity, it is more challenging to label prosperity as a test.  In adversity, one must cling to the Lord despite the loss of earthly blessings; in prosperity, one must anchor oneself into the Giver rather than the abundance of gifts. In seasons of adversity,  every lesser rival to the Lord is shown to be a vain, empty idol; however, in prosperity, a multitude of plenty fights to obscure our trust in the Lord.

I tend to thrive spiritually in the dry riverbeds of loss and pain; yet, I struggle to keep my gaze fixed upon the Lord in the floodplains of His favor. In fact, as I reflected over the past year, I found myself blushing inwardly and outwardly at the abundance of the Lord’s undeserved blessings in our lives. We bought a new house, continued in callings we love, began swimmingly  at a new school and have experienced countless streams of the Lord’s favor.

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In the floodplains of His favor, we are invited to invest seasons of prosperity by climbing up the sunbeam, building for the future, and inviting others into blessing.

Climb up the sunbeam

In order to survive and invest seasons of prosperity, we must do the hard work of distinguishing between the gift and the Giver. The riches are not the end game of seasons of seemingly endless blessing. Rather, the ultimate goal ought to be a deeper knowledge of the King whose character it is to share His abundance freely.

If riches increase, set not your heart upon them. Psalm 62:10.

In Letters to Malcolm, C.S. Lewis aptly describes the arduous work of moving beyond gift to the nature of the Giver.

“Gratitude exclaims… ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”

God’s radiant nature naturally emits sunbeams of His grace; rather than merely lazing in the warmth of such rays, we are invited to climb up the sunbeams back to the Sun from whom every good and perfect gifts comes (James 1:17).

Build for the future

Every time the Lord sees fit to bless our family with relative calm and peace, my mind runs to King Asa.  After a series of horrible kings, God moves Asa’s heart to restore God to His rightful place among the people of God. After his tearing down countless shrines to false gods, God blesses Asa’s obedience with a season of unheard of peace and prosperity.  After scores of years marred with warring parties and raids on every side, the land rested. But Asa did not.

In his days the land had rest for ten years. And Asa did what was good and right in the sight of the Lord his God…And the kingdom had rest under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had not war in those years, for the  Lord gave him peace. And he said to Judah,  “Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers and gates and  bars.” 2 Chronicles 14: 2 & 5-7. 

While seasons of adversity are marked by an effort to maintain, seasons of prosperity ought be marked by efforts to advance. Just as Asa invested his decade of peace to strengthen and grow his cities, we are invited by the Lord to strengthen our own souls, households and spheres of influence. In seasons of plenty, we have a chance to buttress our lives by digging more deeply into theology. For seasons of adversity will return, and we want to be physically, spiritually and relationally ready to not only survive them, but even to thrive in them.

Invite others into blessing

God made clear the intention of His blessings to His people many millennia ago, as early as His call to Abram.

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great,  so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you, I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12: 2-3. 

God blesses us that we might bless others, even those beyond the fold of faith.

As those who have lived a support-based existence for decades, we have been splattered, splashed and showered by the blessings of others. While it is humbling to be on the receiving end of the seasons of plenty of others, it is an incredible gift to see the body of  Christ shunt its blessings abroad to the left and the right.

While financial applications are easy to envision, other avenues of application may require more creativity. If God has blessed you with a season of rest and stillness, invest it by stepping in to serve those who are currently being whipped by the whirlwind. If God has given you a platform, use it to build steps downward that others might be developed to join you there.

May we be able to say with Job, in both seasons of prosperity and adversity, “The Lord gave,  and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

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Piercing Productivity

Productivity and fruitfulness are not always the same thing. In fact, one can be incredibly productive without being fruitful in the Biblical sense of the term.

Postured to Produce

The First world is as obsessed with productivity as the Third world, only for immensely different reasons. The Third world’s physical survival often depends on the productivity of land and crops. In the First world, while the most basic human needs are met and often greatly exceeded, identity and emotional worth tend to be tied into productivity.

Upon introducing friends or ourselves at parties or work events, we tend to lead with accolades, accomplishments and other measuring rods of productivity. When asked how we are doing, we likely respond with the word busy, as if our busyness and significance were directly correlated and essentially synonymous. We associate a good day with a productive day.

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Often we do not realize how intricately twined our sense of worth and our productivity have become until we are sidelined in our productivity, until the proverbial conveyor belts of our lives come to a screeching halt.

When we are suddenly bed-ridden with sickness or stripped of our job satisfaction whether by unemployment or underemployment, the weight we place on productivity is revealed.  In these and other instances of severe mercy, God often gives us the uncomfortable gift of stillness which can lead to soul assessment and realignment with His values.

Henri Nouwen wrote the following thoughts on productivity after having lived in an intentional community of handicapped persons and their caregivers.

“I do not want to suggest that productivity is wrong or needs to be despised.  On the contrary , productivity and success can greatly enhance our lives. But when our value as human beings depend on what we make with our hands and minds, we become victims of the fear tactics of our world. When productivity is our main way of overcoming self-doubt, we are extremely vulnerable to rejection and the criticism and prone to inner anxiety and depression. Productivity can never give us the deep sense of belonging we crave.”

Postured to Abide

While the Scriptures most assuredly address living productive lives through proverbs that condemn sloth and parables that teach us to invest our talents, the thrust of Scripture leans toward faithfulness rather than productivity, abiding rather than achieving.  In fact, it seems that Biblical fruitfulness flows directly from our faithfulness to abide and rest in the One who wills and works in us (Philippians 4:13).

When I have stilled my heart before the One who stills the physical seas and the rolling emotional ocean within me, I am freed from the frantic need to produce both physically  and spiritually. When I have remembered that He is the vine and I am but a branch, I begin to have a better idea of God’s design for the day ahead (John 15: 1-11): obedience and love.

Obedience and love do not always yield a crop of what the world would term productivity. Obedience often looks like not running the extra errand or squeezing in the workout because there is an encouraging note to be written or a brother’s burden to bear. Love often looks more like “wasting” time playing Legos or the umpteenth round of Uno than finishing the to-do list.

Starting with the end in mind helps me. I long for the legacy I leave to be different than a name on an arena or a large bank account. I long for a legacy of Christ-likeness in both the smallest and large, the seen and the unseen.

In a season marked by goal-setting and life-planning (both of which are fine things when they aren’t the first and final things), I find my heart needing to fight to remember that a life of fruitfulness comes from having yielded to the Lord.

As Corrie ten Boom constantly quotes, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15).

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When Fortresses Fall

Our family has arrived in Texas for Campus Outreach’s annual New Year’s Conference. We have purchased enough travel boxes of sugared cereal to feed a small nation. We have coffee enough to fuel us through five sleep-anemic days. I have attempted to make the hotel room feel as nested as a Joanna Gaines’ home.

Despite the fact that these conferences have always been part of the fabric of our holidays, every year I still feel the same amount of inadequacy.

Sure, we have great speakers and loads of seminars. We have good signage and a swanky hotel. But what we are asking the Lord to do seems as utterly ridiculous and unthinkable as what God told Joshua He would do at Jericho all those millennia ago.

The four hundred college students who are trickling in today from all over the United States are trapped in fortresses that have been built since the day they were born. Fortresses of self buttressed by generational sin and broken homes and laced with the lies of the world.

Enter our rag tag group of young staff leaders of whom my husband and I are among the most senior (which is scary on two levels: 1) we are not that old and 2) we know how broken and inadequate we ourselves are).  Somehow, God intends to topple fortresses that have been strengthened by habit and culture.

While praying for the conference, the Lord reminded me of Jericho.

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Having recently lost their trusted and time-worn leader, a group of wandering Hebrews emerge from 40 years of wandering in one of the harshest desert landscapes in the world. With a newly minted leader, Joshua, at the helm, they have finally entered the promised land.

They approach Jericho, one of the foremost urban cities of their day.  There could not be a stronger foil than the one between the settled citizens of Jericho and the wandering Hebrews.

Joshua snuck away from the sleeping caravan one night, walking around the outskirts of the wall. Perhaps he was processing the complex sea of emotions that were stirring within him: insecurity, grief over the loss of his mentor, ambition and inadequacy, among others. I wonder if he looked up at the towering walls and wondered what in the world God was planning to do.

You know the story. The commander of the Lord’s army shows up (likely a Christophany, a showing up of Christ in the Old Testament). In a moment that mimics that of his leader Moses, Joshua is asked to take off his shoes, for the land on which he is standing is holy. Then Joshua and the commander of the Lord’s army have a chat about strategy.

I bet Joshua expected something big, something huge and daring. We would likely expect the same if we were invited into the war room with Roosevelt and Churchill during WWII.  Yet, the plan they drew up likely fell flat to his expectations and seemed laughable.  March for six days in silence, blow some horns and carry the ark of the covenant. On the seventh day, march seven times. When the trumpets blow, shout and make a ruckus.

Yet, Joshua and the people obeyed. They trusted not in the unseemly  strategy, but rather in the Strategist, the Lord, Yahweh, who would proven Himself faithful and to be feared and obeyed.  And against all odds, victory was theirs. They had not even touched the wall, yet the fortress fell.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy  arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.  2 Corinthians 10: 3-5.

Please pray for our staff team and student leaders. Pray that we would trust the Strategist who has commanded us to prayerfully proclaim the truths of His Word. Pray that fortresses made with bricks of worldly thinking and culture would fall by the strength of the Savior. Pray that God would raise up a generation of men and women who are deeply changed by the gospel, committed to the Word of God and the mission of God.

We are off to grab our horns and march around some Jerichos. To God be the glory!